First author, Abiskar Gyawali, measuring the heights of plants in the field
photo courtesy of University of Goettingen

An international team of scientists led by the University of Goettingen has developed a new approach to identifying the genes that control plant traits. The method will enable plant breeders and scientists to develop more affordable, desirable, and sustainable plant varieties, especially for fruit, vegetable, and grain crops that are critical for global food security and human nutrition.

The new method is an extension of a tool known as GWA (Genome Wide Association). GWA studies use genetic sequencing technologies coupled with advanced statistics and computation to link differences in the genetic code with particular traits. When using GWA to study plants, researchers typically manage large sets of genetically identical plants, which can be a costly and time-consuming process. The new technique is modeled after an approach often used to study human DNA, in which DNA samples from thousands of individuals are compared.

To test whether the new approach would be successful in plants, the scientists combined the advantages of a GWA study with additional statistical analysis techniques and investigated whether their combination of approaches could accurately detect genes involved in plant height, a trait that has been extensively studied. The scientists planted four fields of an early variety of white maize (white corn) and measured the height of the plants. They identified three genes, from the potential 39,000 genes in the maize genome, which were controlling plant height. The effects of all three were supported by previous studies on other maize varieties, which validated that their method had worked.

“Scientists usually have to measure huge numbers of genetically identical plants in order to have a powerful enough study for finding genes,” said Timothy Beissinger, head of the Division of Plant Breeding Methodology at the University of Goettingen, in a press release, “but we used a diverse maize population and showed that our approach was powerful without relying on identical plants at all.

“The exciting thing is that this study reveals the potential for our method to enable research in other food crops where research funding is not as high,” he added. “Due to industry and government support, resources are already available to do large-scale studies in maize. But for scientists studying the countless vegetables, fruits, and grains that many communities rely on, funding for massive studies simply isn’t possible. This is a breakthrough which will enable cheap and quick identification of trait-gene associations to advance nutrition and sustainability in food crops worldwide.”

More from IFTNEXT right arrow

New coating gives foodborne pathogens the slip

A nonstick wrap that repels bacteria has potentially valuable food packaging applications, according to the researchers at McMaster University in Canada who developed it.

Developing alternatives to the ‘other white meat’

With concerns over contaminated seafood and the environmental cost of beef production, it is no wonder that startups are popping up with a slew of alternatives. However, until recently, innovation in the pork alternatives segment has lagged.

An avocado a day may keep LDL away

Keeping ‘bad cholesterol’ at bay may be as simple as consuming one avocado a day, according to the results of research conducted by scientists at Pennsylvania State University.

New fishing technologies increase depletion of fish stocks

A research initiative at the University of British Columbia called the Sea Around Us conducts research on the fisheries of the world and their effects on aquatic ecosystems.

Latest News right arrow

Cooking dinners at home more frequently may improve overall diet quality

A study published in Public Health Nutrition suggests that people who often cook meals at home may have a better overall diet.

Almost 50% of U.S. adults will be obese by 2030

About half of the U.S. adult population will have obesity and about a quarter will have severe obesity by 2030, according to a study led by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Mediterranean diet may improve kidney health in transplant recipients

A study published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology suggests that consuming a Mediterranean diet may aid kidney health in kidney transplant recipients.

Children may make healthier food choices after watching a healthy food cooking show

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior shows that children may make healthier eating decisions after watching a television cooking program featuring healthy food.

Whole milk may decrease risk of obesity in children

A meta-analysis published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that children who drink whole milk may be less likely to be overweight or obese compared with children who consume reduced-fat milk.